Bribe-Payers, Bribe-Takers, Who Walks and Who Gets Slammed

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hills2.jpg
Don Hill got 18 years. HIll's wife got nine. The guy who paid him bribes got 14 months. His wife got probation. Do the math.

This is an addendum to a thing I wrote yesterday about the recent indictment of Dallas' most powerful county officials on bribery and tax charges. One thing we all have to do in order to figure this out is the math.

We can talk all day about collective guilt -- I think I just did -- but we also need to keep one eye on the way of the world and how these things actually work.

Yes, we do seem to go through this Groundhog Day syndrome in Dallas in which the rich white guys who pay the bribes get something between a slap on the wrist and a peck on the cheek from the feds, while the black officials who take the bribes get penalties just short of death. No, it's not right, and, sure, we would be unfeeling lumps if our consciences were not stirred.

But one reason for the Groundhog Day syndrome is a lesson unlearned. The guy who spelled the lesson out for me five years ago after the last of these trials was Billy Ravkind, who is now representing Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price at the center of today's drama. I cannot find my way back to the exact quote, but I well remember the gist of what Ravkind told me.

I called Ravkind and asked him to help me explain to readers why the white guy who paid bribes got 14 months while Don Hill, the black City Council member who took the bribes, got 18 years, and his wife got nine years. Ravkind, long a dean of the Texas white collar defense bar, is a former assistant U.S. attorney who worked major white collar prosecutions for the government in his younger years, so he has seen the world from both sides.

He explained to me that the severity of the sentence in a federal corruption prosecution has everything to do with how fast and how much the target cooperated. Ravkind said the thing to do for your client, if you know he's guilty and you know the government's got the goods, is grab him/her by the wrist and run -- don't walk, run -- to the federal building and ask what you can do to help.

See also:
John Wiley Price and Associates Indicted by Feds in Alleged Bribery Scheme
John Wiley Price, Shuffling in Cuffs and Leg-Irons, Enters His Plea
Dallas Leaders Walked Arm-in-Arm with John Wiley Price in the Betrayal of Southern Dallas

You run to the federal building to be the first to get there. Whatever you think you've got to offer, he said, is worth half as much the minute somebody else gets down there ahead of you with the same thing. So it's a race to see who does the best flip first.

Brian Potashnik, the contractor who paid bribes to get low-income housing deals at City Hall, balked at first when the feds came sniffing. He came around later and cooperated. He got 14 months, and his wife, Cheryl, got two years probation and a felony conviction, which is not nothing.

Bill Fisher, another low-income southern Dallas apartment developer, got the peck on the cheek and a well-deserved hero's welcome, but only after he went the Ravkind route, rushing downtown to be a witness, not a defendant. Fisher then endured two years of hell including coming close to getting his ass kicked while he wore a wire for the FBI. Being a cooperating witness is not a TV show. It sucks. But it's a job that pays well in terms of the rest of your life as a free person.

Don Hill, the councilman, went the save-me-Jesus route. He protested his absolute innocence to the bitter end and said Jesus was on his side. Every time he said it again, I shuddered. I describe my own convictions as superstitious, not spiritual, but my superstition leads me to believe you shouldn't try to rope Jesus in on your federal criminal problems.

Here is the bitter truth. Let's say you truly believe you are absolutely innocent. OK. That answers Question 1. Question 2 is this: Are you an absolutely innocent person who can get an acquittal from a jury of your peers, or are you an absolutely innocent person who is going to be convicted? Question 3: Are you sure you know what innocent means?

Everybody at Dallas City Hall and in the Dallas political establishment, from the city attorney to political consultant Carol Reed, told Fisher to go ahead and hire security guards from a firm owned by City Council member James Fantroy, with two exceptions.

Mayor Laura Miller found out about the deal in a closed-door executive session where City Hall was trying to keep it a deep dark secret, and Miller, through KTVT Channel 11 News reporter Sarah Dodd, blew it up all over the place. I will say again: Don't tell me Miller accomplished nothing as mayor. She still ranks as the biggest change-agent at City Hall in the third of a century that I've been watching.

Fisher listened to Miller and Dodd, told himself, yeah, this ain't right, and went to the feds early on to help them make their cases against Fantroy and Hill. Peck on cheek, hero.

Potashnik listened to the Dallas establishment for a while, believed he was copacetic, wised up later and went downtown for a deal. Fourteen months, wife a felon. Hill insisted to the bitter end that he and Jesus were innocent. Eighteen years, wife nine years.

Do the math.


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44 comments
smichaelclark59
smichaelclark59

Would love to see the shit grins on their faces now.  

Prayer does work.  Worked for me in this case anyway and so far in the JWP case.  We'll see how powerful prayer is again

fromtexasbygod
fromtexasbygod

The deflect the blame game by JWP sympathizers along with the "JWP the victim" crusade facilitated by many Dallas leaders and the Dallas Morning News shouldn't be a factor in the federal trial. 

It is unlikely any of this nonsense will ever be heard by jurors INSIDE the courtroom.  Apparently the JWP defense and supporters (including several Dallas Morning News Columnists) hope the propaganda will corrupt at least one person seated on the jury resulting in a hard headed holdout for acquittal based prejudicial beliefs held before the trial began.  

rusknative
rusknative

Black politicians and ministers are the easiest persons to bribe, being basically lazy, greedy, and not too bright....but love to preach to their "flock" who will follow them to Hell muttering "Amen bro" all the way.

roscoejette
roscoejette

In the eyes of the law, public servants are held to higher standards.

amberrjames
amberrjames

Then I suggest black people quit pulling scams with white people. Simple!

Guesty
Guesty

There are at least 4 reasons why the public official receiving the bribe is going to get it worse than those paying the bribes:

1)  We hold public officials to a higher standard.  In fact, the federal sentencing guidelines, which are not binding but are usually followed, expressly increase the penalties for public officials involved in bribery.  At base, the sentence can almost be double.  And that is before accounting for the fact that the public official probably faces more separate instances involving more total money than any one person paying the bribes.  http://www.ussc.gov/guidelines-manual/2013/2013-2c11

2)  It is much more difficult to prove that the person paying the bribe is guilty than it is to prove that the person receiving the bribe is guilty.  That gives them more leverage in pleading out.  This case is a good example.  Price seems to have no good explanation for receiving the money from Nealy.  The mere fact that he is accepting the money is evidence that he is knowingly accepting a bribe.  The feds only have to put the money into his hands and they have a good (not bulletproof, but good) case against Price.  But the companies paying the "bribes" aren't writing checks to Price (that would be very hard to explain).  They are paying Nealy, which could be a legitimate transaction.  They can say that they don't know the money is going to Price.

3)  It can be hard to tell which people paying the bribes are willing participants, and which ones are victims of extortion.  A jury/judge/prosecutor might have some sympathy for the otherwise legitimate businessperson who thinks he/she has a contract, and then is threatened with who knows what if Price doesn't get his cut.  There will be people on both sides of that line, but knowing which is which can be difficult.

4)  The people paying the bribes are more likely to roll over quickly and take a deal because they might not have to sacrifice as much by coming forward (see Nos. 1-3 above).

I think a couple are just practical realities that add some unfairness to the system.  But that is part of having a criminal justice system that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 

casiepierce
casiepierce

Stop the presses, Jim! is that the ghost of Mary Suhm I see mirrored in that shiny granite column?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

My experience is that the city officials are the ones shaking down those doing business with city. It is none too subtle.

animas
animas

As I recall, almost five years ago (nearly to the day) columnists  Jason Trahan and Reese Dunklin at the Dallas Morning News raised a few questions regarding the Laura Miller-Brian Potasnik relationship.  The Potashniks contributed $66,000. to Ms. Millers' mayoral bid, and allegedly  received unspecified support from the former mayor in their company's competitive struggles for city contracts  with former Potashnik employee turned competitor Fisher.  Ms. Miller was even called as a witness in the ethics/corruption trial of mayor pro tem Hill.  Those were the days, evidently.

rubbbrduky
rubbbrduky

Well..... The Price certainly was NOT RIGHT,.........Fo real do, he be eatin' pRice and beans now LOL.

hwy77
hwy77

JWP's media value has been outstanding over the decades, and it looks like the best is yet to come. He had to learn how business is done here, which he did, and some of his models and mentors are likely to show up on the stage once this really begins to play out. Most of them don't live south of the Trinity River, and never did. Some may even live in Collin County, that vaunted corruption-free zone someone here previously mentioned.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

This reinforces something I've heard from a large number of attorneys, be the first one to call the cops. If you are in any confrontation with another person, be sure you are the first one to call. They are more likely to believe the first party who talks to them. This just proves it is the truth for any level of crime (white collar or not).

James080
James080

Dallas area government is deeply infested with people John Wylie Price got hired, trained, and promoted into positions of ever increasing authority. I wonder how many of his minions are following in his footsteps, using their public positions to capture private profits?

mcdallas
mcdallas

Wasn't there also a murder/suicide linked to the Don Hill case?  A couple who lived in Oak Cliff?  My memory is foggy...

Greg820
Greg820

May Mr. Price forever plead his innocence.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

This may be more like the Industrial deal, where the elected official just stepped in the way and said - it ain't happening baby unless you pay me.  Which is a different scenario than from above.

In this instance Johnny's the cop who pulled over the driver and demanded a bribe before the driver could continue on his way.  It's the only reason why the motorist was stopped in the first place.

The cop commits the greater sin.  He's the one with the badge.  He's the one we hired to enforce the law, not profit from it.  He operates under color of an authority we gave him.  And like the cop, his word is taken in most disputes.

He has the power.

Look at it on the bright side.

John finally obtained the power necessary to be a racist.

As a society, we have advanced.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

"... while the black officials who take the bribes get penalties just short of death. ..."


That Jim is the point, they are public officials and are held to a higher standard.


I will take a lot from public officials and public employees, including sloth, incompetence, and stupidity, but I cannot abide by corruption as corruption indicates that the government is for sale and the government will treat people differently.


Why do you think that growth is occurring in southern Collin County and not in southern Dallas County?

Go to any municipality in southern Collin County with a development proposal.  You will be handed the zoning requirements for your parcel of land and the permit and fee schedule.  If you want to do something that is not quite square with the current zoning and that City will hand to you the procedure for how to get a zoning variance.  If it is something way off, the city staff will tell how likely or unlikely you will get the variance.


Try to build something in southern Dallas county, well it depends.  It depends if the City Councilman thinks that you are the "right" developer before the funds get released to install sewers.  It depends if the county government agrees that you have hired the "right consultants".  It depends if you can hire a "facilitator" to get your zoning request application routed through the CPC and Council without anyone finding out what your real zoning variance is.


Yeah, Dallas is the City that works hard for its bri ... errr "facilitator" and "consultant" fees.


I wonder how the Mayor will explain his $270k "consulting fee" to Nealy?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Moral of the story: A Snitches get stitches ethos will only take you so far in the world of white-collar crime.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

In some way you can almost sympathize with the Potashniks and Fishers. 

The onlyway to get in on the project at hand is to pay somebody with an outstretched hand.

They figure it's been going on since Jesus was a kid, and will probably still be going on when he shows up again. (See how I tied Jesus in, just like Don Hill? Can't say I'm not fair)

But not all of these white boys are pure and innocent. My guess is there's plenty of guilt to be had by some rich guys showing up with offers of goodies if only some official would care to listen.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Listening to talk radio host Roe Conn in Chicago for years reminds me what he always says when it comes to Chicago political scandals hitting the fan...."First one of the bus, gets the best seat."

scambs04
scambs04

Poor, poor white developers. Good thing they have you on their side. You do realize those developers gladly paid the bribes to capitalize on poor black people in the Sourhern sector. Save that BS for someone else.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Wrong. Usually public servant who broke that trust gets easier treatment. Al lipscum, gov Rowland...

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

@casiepierce That's not a ghost, it's Mary herself.  Mary has become a shadow person, unable to be seen directly by the naked eye.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@animas

Miller was called. Hill's defense team did try to make a point of Potashnik's support for her, but I do not remember any points being scored.She always said of him what everybody said, all the way back to California -- that he did quality work. His mistake was doing what Richard Allen was criticized for not doing -- doing things the Dallas way.  

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@hwy77 The collin county claim was corrected: It is a vaunted, corrupt, but un-caught, zone.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@James080

You'd save a lot of ink and paper making a list of the honest ones.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@mcdallas The fog is present but I do believe their was a murder suicide, Rufus Shaw killed Lynn.....

wcvemail
wcvemail

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul

Bear in mind that there is no sentencing enhancement for public officials, unfortunately. Bribery carries the same range of sentences for everybody.

highdraw_
highdraw_

@scambs04


The same way Mayor Rawlings paid for the black vote to become Mayor.


He even paid Kathy Nealy who then paid JWP. 


This game should be stopped and prosecuted for what it is, a crime. The payer acting as if he/she didnt know what Nealy was going to do with the money. 


Come on, cut the shit.  



Guesty
Guesty

@ozonelarryb 

How much time did Floyd Richards do compared to Al Lipscomb, whose conviction was overturned on appeal?

How much time is Lisa Wilson-Foley expected to do for bribing Gov. Rowland?

In almost every case, the person taking the bribes gets more time than the person paying the bribes. 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Jim, rerun the 80s DO puff piece on jwp, that definitively delineated his "our man in South Dallas" status.

Guesty
Guesty

@wcvemail @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

Depends what you mean by "enhancement."  If you mean binding enhancement, you are correct.  But the federal sentencing guidelines, which are not binding but are usually followed, expressly increase the penalties for public officials involved in bribery.  http://www.ussc.gov/guidelines-manual/2013/2013-2c11

An "an elected public official" starts out with an offense level of 18 under the sentencing guidelines for a bribery conviction, where someone who is not a public official at all starts out with an offense level of 12.  The difference could effectively double the sentence for the same offense.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@wcvemail @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

Corruption related charges are specific to the official.  That is, the official may be charged with both accepting a bribe and public corruption, where as the outside individual is just charged with bribery.


I really dislike this concept of having to use "consultants" just to get a simple permit.  I really enjoy the concept of sitting for half of forever at some municipalities in order to get a simple permit while other "juiced in" individuals come and go.


Of course the outside business man may be going wink wink nudge nudge at having to hire a "consultant" or they may just be going "well everybody has to hire these consultants in order to get anything done.".

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Guesty


And they said I'd never learn anything from this computer. t/y

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk @JustSaying I thought it was Orange is the new Black.  or is it 50 Shades of Gray, ah hell its going to take a True Detective to figure this out

Guesty
Guesty

@ozonelarryb The person who took the bribes in that case, Lawrence E. Alibozek, was Gov. Rowland's chief of staff and received 30 months, the same sentence as the person paying the bribes (unusual, but not what you describe).  But that was only because the judge bought the governments argument that the contractor orchestrated the whole thing.  Gov. Rowland wasn't convicted of anything relating to those bribes.  He was instead convicted of election fraud in an entirely different case relating to Lisa Wilson-Foley making illegal campaign contributions in change for political favors.  While he was sentenced to a year, she is not expected get any time in prison.

Lipscomb was sentenced to 4 years.  His conviction was overturned on appeal because Judge Kendall was a little too quick to transfer the case (it didn't help that he transferred it to someplace with a much smaller African American population in the jury pool).  And he probably would have been prosecuted again if he weren't so damn old at the time and hadn't already served more than two years. 


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